CNN and Time suspended journalist Fareed Zakaria Friday after discovering that multiple sections of a recent article he had written for the magazine were plagiarized.
Zakaria, CNN host and Time editor-at-large, penned an article called “The Case for Gun Control” in Time’s Aug. 20 issue. In it, Zakaria wrote,
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed. … Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”
Here’s the problem: this isn’t the first time someone has written these words.
Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University, authored the exact paragraph in a column for The New Yorker in April. She wrote in “Battleground America,”
As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed. … Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”
As you can see, the word “exact” isn’t absolutely precise. It seems Zakaria threw in a few personal interjections, changed verb tenses, and eliminated punctuation when he deemed it necessary. CNN and Time subsequently suspended the writer, and they plan to conduct an investigation into his previous work.
Zakaria issued a statement of apology for what he deemed a “serious lapse.” However, many people were left upset by the statement, which merely acknowledged that the two pieces “bear close similarities.” Close similarities may refer to the use of identical statistics. The reprint of more than five verbatim sentences is another thing entirely.
What’s worse is that subtle changes in the excerpt’s diction indicates that Zakaria purposefully tried to evade fact-checkers. It is often that newsroom employees responsible for the fact-checking process will copy-and-paste various sentences into Google in order to ensure the publisher and editors that the work is original. However, despite the glaring similarities in the two writers’ first sentences, a fact-checker would not have been alerted to the plagiarism if he or she had wrapped quotation marks around the sentences in question.
Twitchy pointed out speculations on Twitter that someone ghost-wrote the story for Time. Many users wrote that it’s difficult to picture someone of Zakaria’s stature assuming he could get away with plagiarism, even if he wanted to.
“My guess: his assistant wrote it,” tweeted Mark Leccese, a media critic at Boston.com. “[He] just polished it up, didn’t know of the steal from Jill Lepore — best case scenario.”
Tim Graham, who broke the story at NewsBusters, maintained a less-optimistic viewpoint.
“It’s not the first time Zakaria’s been accused of lifting things,” wrote Graham. “Zakaria’s also been caught giving the same commencement address over and over.”
Recent time has been rough on the purity of journalistic integrity.
The New Yorker forced Jonah Lehrer to resign from his position at the magazine less than two weeks ago when Reason contributing editor Michael C. Moynihan discovered falsified quotations from Bob Dylan in Lehrer’s new book, “Imagine.” Lehrer was found earlier to have self-plagiarized.
Both Zakaria and Lehrer are now being compared to Stephen Glass, a staff writer at The New Republic in the 1990s whose chronicle of deception is dramatized in the 2003 film “Shattered Glass,” starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, and Chloë Sevigny.